Ahead of AIX 2019 in Hamburg, we explore the airliner configurations in use on the world's six longest routes
The aviation industry entered an era of ultra-long flights on 18 June 2004 when Singapore Airlines introduced a nonstop service between its hub and New York Newark. Today, passengers have a choice of several of these 16h-plus flights linking North America to Southeast Asia or the Middle East to Australasia.
With many of these services premium-priced, they cater for travellers who tend to value their time and convenience ahead of their budget. The cabin interiors tend to reflect this, with configurations skewed towards business and first class.
With Qantas seeking ultra-long-range aircraft, as part of its "Project Sunrise", in order to push the limits even further by introducing direct flights from the east coast of Australia to London in the early 2020s, we have charted – using data from Cirium's Fleets Analyzer – the five longest current flights. We have also detailed how each of the airlines has equipped the cabins of the aircraft most commonly used on the route.
1. Singapore Airlines reopened its nonstop service between Singapore and Newark in October 2018, using Airbus A350-900s. The flag carrier has configured a sub-fleet of these aircraft with a premium-only cabin layout comprising just 161 seats. There are 67 seats in business class, arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, and supplied by Japan's Jamco. The premium economy cabin has 94 seats laid out 2-4-2. The spacious design allows passengers to feel more relaxed during the 17h flight. The airline also operates the aircraft on its direct Singapore to Los Angeles route.
2. Doha to Auckland is the second-longest route in the world, flown by Qatar Airways with Boeing 777-200LR aircraft. This fleet is currently undergoing a retrofit programme, with six of the nine aircraft having already received new cabins. These feature Collins Aerospace Qsuites in business class replacing the older angled lie-flat Safran Minipods. As with many 777 operators, the economy-class cabin has become denser with an increase from nine to 10 seats abreast.
3. Qantas introduced the Perth-to-London Heathrow service in March 2018, becoming the first airline to connect Australia directly with Europe; the new route ranks as the third-longest in the world. The Boeing 787-9s feature a cabin layout tailored for ultra-long-range flights. The business-class section has 42 Thompson seats, arranged 1-2-1 abreast, giving passengers direct aisle access. Newly designed premium economy-class seats with 38in pitch and 22.8in (58cm) width provide more legroom and space for passengers. There are 166 seats in economy. Internet connectivity will be provided in future by Viasat, which is currently equipping other Qantas fleets. Project Sunrise is focusing on the acquisition of an aircraft type that will operate even longer sectors, from Australia's east coast to Europe. The Perth-to-London route will give a big indication as to how Qantas can improve the passenger experience for these future ultra-long-flights.
4.Emirates is the only airline serving the Dubai-to-Auckland route, with Airbus A380s. Currently Emirates operates the superjumbos in six cabin configurations, with the two lowest-density layouts frequenting the Auckland route. Emirates focuses on first and business class and does not offer premium economy. However, the economy class pitch is 33in, which is 1-2in more than the industry standard.
5.The fifth-longest route is Singapore to Los Angeles, referred to in the first entry above.
6.Currently the longest nonstop flight between Australasia and North America is United Airlines' Sydney-to-Houston flight using 787-9s. United selected the Collins Aerospace Diamond product for its business-class cabin with 2-2-2 configuration, the same as Qatar Airways' business class. There are 88 economy plus seats with 35in pitch, giving passengers a higher degree of comfort than in economy. There are 116 seats in economy proper. The airline is rolling out new Polaris business-class seats and installing premium economy cabins across the entire widebody fleet. The 787-9s are being retrofitted from this year.